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Tell Them From Me Student Survey Trial Final Rpt 2014

Authors: Marita Merlene, Wendy Hodge, Kerry Hart, Alexandra Ellinson, Ofir Thaler

Evaluator company/business: ARTD Consultants

Year: 2014

URL or PDF: Download the Evaluation of the 'Tell Them From Me' student survey trial (PDF, 1.14MB).

Summary: This formative evaluation provided insight and advice for the future implementation of student surveys. Mixed methods were used —surveys, case studies in five schools and semi-structured interviews. 172 secondary schools and 55 primary schools took part in the pilot  online student survey and were approached to participate in the evaluation. The evaluation found that principals favoured the continuation of the student survey and the introduction of similar surveys for teachers and for parents.

Published in Evaluation repository

cognitive load theory (PDF, 510kb)Cognitive load practice guide thumb

Cognitive load theory (PDF, 510kB)

Cognitive load theory in practice (PDF, 5.5MB)

One-page summary (PDF, 68kB)

Managing cognitive load through effective presentations - a practical resource

Evidence summary poster for school staffrooms 

MyPL course part 1

MyPL course part 2



This literature review provides an overview of cognitive load theory, which is a theory of how human brains learn and store knowledge. Dylan Wiliam has described cognitive load theory as ‘the single most important thing for teachers to know’. Grounded in a robust evidence base, cognitive load theory provides support for explicit models of instruction.

Main findings

The human brain can only process a small amount of new information at once, but it can process very large amounts of stored information.
Information is processed in the working memory, where small amounts of information are stored for a very short time. The average person can only hold about four ‘chunks’ of information in their working memory at one time.
Long-term memory is where large amounts of information are stored semi-permanently. Information is stored in the long-term memory in ‘schemas’, which provide a system for organising and storing knowledge.
If a student’s working memory is overloaded, there is a risk that they will not understand the content being taught and that their learning will be slow and/or ineffective.
With extensive practice, information can be automatically recalled from long-term memory with minimal conscious effort. This ‘automation’ reduces the burden on working memory, because when information can be accessed automatically, the working memory is freed up to learn new information.

Cognitive load theory provides support for explicit models of instruction.
Cognitive load theory is supported by a significant number of randomised controlled trials (RCTs). This large body of evidence indicates that instruction is most effective when it is designed according to the limitations of working memory.

Cognitive load theory indicates that when teaching students new content and skills, teachers are more effective when they provide explicit guidance accompanied by practice and feedback, not when they require students to discover for themselves many aspects of what they must learn.

Research from cognitive load theory has produced a number of instructional techniques that are directly transferable to the classroom.
These include the ‘worked example effect’, which is the widely replicated finding that novice learners who are given worked examples to study perform better on subsequent tests than learners who are required to solve the equivalent problems themselves.
Another finding is the 'expertise reversal effect', which shows that as students become more proficient at solving a particular type of problem, they should gradually be given more opportunities for independent problem solving.

More information

CESE has recently released a professional learning course based on this literature review, which will contribute 1.5 hours of registered professional learning for teachers.



Evidence summary poster for school staffrooms

To help share the evidence, Cognitive load theory is available as a summary poster (PDF, 119kB). 

What does the poster say?

About cognitive load theory

Dylan Wiliam has described cognitive load theory as ‘the single most important thing for teachers to know’. Grounded in a robust evidence base, cognitive load theory provides support for explicit models of instruction. The CESE literature review ‘Cognitive load theory: Research that teachers really need to understand’ explains the principles behind cognitive load theory and how it assists the human brain to learn and store knowledge.

Main findings

  • The human brain can only deal with a small amount of new information at once, but it can hold a very large amount of stored information.
  • Cognitive load theory provides support for explicit models of instruction.
  • Research from cognitive load theory has produced a number of instructional techniques that are directly transferable to the classroom.

How memory works 

  • Small amounts of short term information are processed in the working memory. 

The average person can only hold about four ‘chunks’ of information in their working memory at once.

  • Large amounts of information are stored semi-permanently in the long-term memory.

Information is stored in ‘schemas’ which provide a system for organising and storing knowledge.

  • Working memory can become overloaded.

If a student’s working memory is overloaded, they may not understand the content being taught.

  • Memory overload can be prevented.

With practice, and strategies to minimise cognitive load, information can be automatically recalled from long-term memory, freeing up the working memory to learn new information.

Published in Research report

2017 engagment NAPLAN thumbnail 
Research shows the benefit of effective teaching and student engagement. The Improving high school engagement learning curve (PDF, 1.6MB) uses data from the NSW Tell Them From Me student surveys in 2013 and 2015 to look at how students' engagement, performance and experience of classroom practices in Year 7 affect their engagement and performance in Year 9.

Learn more about the Tell Them From Me surveys.


Summary of strategies to improve engagement, effective teaching practices and achievement

Based on the modelling work in this publication, the following summarises the strategies that the research evidence identifies as most effective for improving engagement and achievement in Years 7-9. You can also download these strategies as a PDF (115kB)

Strategies to encourage positive behaviour

  • Create a positive learning environment with well managed classrooms.
  • Adopt teaching strategies that incorporate positive discipline techniques to enable students to develop their own strategies for self-discipline.
  • Actively engage students and promote positive behaviour rather than focussing only on reactive discipline strategies such as punishment.
  • Develop structure and routines for the classroom and explicitly teach these through discussion and practice.
  • Foster positive relationships between teachers and students and among peers.
  • Establish and maintain clear expectations and rules for student behaviour in the classroom and at school.
  • Reinforce appropriate behaviour and respond consistently to misbehaviour.
  • Adopt school-wide positive behaviour support programs that communicate and teach rules (and reward students for following them).
  • Encourage social and emotional learning that promotes self-management, social awareness, relationship skills and responsible decision-making.
  • Use these strategies in conjunction with policies that recognise the need to manage inappropriate student behaviour when it impacts significantly on learning.

Strategies to improve attendance

  • Set expectations for attendance and establish improvement goals.
  • Analyse attendance rates to monitor trends and patterns in the data.
  • Listen to students’ perspectives: students’ views on their reasons for non-attendance may give insight into ways to improve school attendance.
  • Promote social and emotional engagement, ensuring students feel connected to school and have a positive sense of belonging and connection with others.
  • Promote positive relationships with teachers with a well-structured learning environment: students should believe that their teachers care about them and will have high, clear and fair expectations of them.
  • Increase collaboration with families, for instance, through involving parents in school decision-making; increasing parental participation in classroom
    activities; and establishing a contact person at school for family members to communicate and work with.

Strategies to increase interest and motivation

  • Give students feedback on their work and their level of effort, and help them develop their own strategies for learning.
  • Encourage students to believe they can perform a task; this will increase their levels of effort and persistence.
  • Provide students with opportunities to set goals for performance improvements that are achievable and worthwhile
  • Adopt approaches that build students’ sense of autonomy, for example, listening to students; asking questions and responding to questions; acknowledging students’ perspectives; and giving them opportunities to work though problems on their own, when they have a sufficient knowledge base.

    Strategies to promote high expectations

  • Be clear about what is expected of students and follow-up on expectations.
  • Make it clear to all students that they must work hard to succeed.
  • Encourage students to do better, for instance, through personal best goal setting (that is, a student’s attempt to improve on or match his/her previous best standard of performance).
  • Provide feedback that explicitly identifies the next learning steps and the skills necessary to improve.
  • Expect homework to be done on time.

Effective teaching practices

  • Organise lessons well.
  • Tell students what they will be learning and be clear about the purpose of tasks.
  • Pay particular attention to how important ideas are taught and help students understand their significance.
  • Require students to demonstrate mastery, especially of difficult ideas.
  • Allow students to ask questions, ensuring responses are clear and have been understood.
  • Ensure students are given time to engage with the learning process and receive clear and timely feedback.
  • Encourage positive relationships between teachers and students for engagement and learning, with a balance between academic and social engagement.
Published in Research report

Great Teaching, Inspired learning

High-quality teaching is the greatest in-school influence on student engagement and outcomes. Given current concerns about Australia’s declining performance on international assessments, particularly when compared with high-performing Asian and other countries, there is significant interest in the contribution that high-quality teaching can make to improving educational results.

Download the full publication (PDF, 1.7MB).

Published in Research report

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